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Self-Identity: Trauma, Hope and the Flow of Time

I think that people who have suffered greatly often fall into two traps regarding self-identity and understanding. Not that that is their fault – it seems to be one of the inevitable results of trauma. Trauma leads to brokenness, one's world is shattered, and often, one's self is shattered along with it.
I find that people who have undergone trauma often:
(1) define themselves by the wrongs that have been committed against them.
(2) define themselves by the wrongs that they themselves have committed.
In both of these definitions there is a way in which the past maintains an iron grip over the individual. Something has happened in the past that is inescapable, the past is that which defines oneself and there's no getting out of it.
Now, I think the way in which we understand a seemingly abstract concept like the flow of time becomes surprisingly relevant in this regard.
I think that the common understanding of the flow of time is to see things moving from the past, into the present and then the future. We were, we are, we will be. The past moves into the present, the present moves into the future.
I would like to suggest (and here I am indebted to Moltmann… as always) that time actually flows the other direction. The future breaks into the present which then becomes the past. That which will be becomes that which is, and that which is becomes that which was.
So why is this significant?
This is hugely significant because if this is true then we are not defined by our past but by our future. If this is the case I can live a hopeful existence, not trapped within the realm of the wrongs committed against me, or the wrongs I myself have performed. Not only that but, because I have some sense of the nature of the hope that I hold, I am able to live a liberated existence in the present. Because it is this future that defines me and can start to live within it now.
And if this assured hope is one that consists of love relationship and an ever deeper movement into intimacy then I will not define myself by any type of wrongdoing, whether my own or somebody else's. Instead I will come to know myself as Beloved, with all the beauty, freedom and joy that that entails.

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  1. I was initially quite excited about this post until I remembered that I have Crohn’s disease and my future holds the promise of a lot more pain. And that’s why I had lost all hope for the future after my lengthy illness a few years back. (I hope to some day have the time to talk about this in more detail in response to Jude’s second post.)

  2. Josh,
    This is where Revelation comes into play (dang, I wish I had brought those books back for you). One of the central messages of Revelation is the assurance of Christ’s Lordship and his promise to restore all of creation BUT the author keeps telling his readers that it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
    Just because we have an assured future doesn’t mean that “every day in every way we’re getting better and better”. Far from it. It may mean we’ve got a whole lot of misery to go through before we get there.
    However, the assurance sustains us in the midst of all that. It lets us know that we’re not just heading deeper and deeper into darkness. Revelation reminds us that though the night is getting darker is is only at its darkest before the dawn. And the sun will rise.